Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The High One

Immediately after I returned from my trip to the Revelations, it was time to start repacking for Denali. As I washed my clothes and drank a cool beer, I was struck with a sense of trepidation. This would be my first time on Denali, but I felt like I already knew every step of the route. Years of studying and reading about it had given me a sort of third party insight to every aspect of the West Buttress and the
lifestyle on the mountain.

It wasn't the height or the weather that had me less than excited about the trip, it was the hoards. Having come from the Revelations, a place almost no one had ever even heard of, the West Buttress of Denali was a complete polar opposite. Regardless, I knew it was going to be an adventure, just not a 'wilderness adventure.'

This was going to be my third year working with Rainier Mountaineering Inc., a guide service out of Ashford, WA. I had spent the past two summers guiding on 14,411' Mount Rainier, and had earned a spot working on Denali.

As Jay Hudson of Hudson Air dropped our crew off at basecamp on the Kahiltna Glacier, the anticipation and excitement grew with the height of the surrounding mountains. Immediately I ran into Alaskan hardman Mark Westman. A quick hello was all we had time for, but he had just completed the fourth ascent of the Isis Face on Denali as well as a new route near the Mini-Moonflower. Hearing about his climbing adventures already whetted my appetite for something other than a three-week slog.

Looking into the Valley of Death from the lower Kahiltna Glacier.

11k Camp with Foraker in the background

Our team was incredibly strong, the personalities unique yet comparable. As we moved higher up the West Buttress, the weather seemed to be holding stable. It looked as though we would complete a relatively fast trip, if only the weather would hold.

We ran into Steve House at 11K camp. He and his client Richard were acclimatizing for the Cassin Ridge. We would run into them many more times throughout the trip and it was neat to pick his brain about various climbs around the world.
At one point he stopped to talk to us and I somehow held his Grivel ice tool. "Grant me some of your power, Great White Hope!" I remember thinking. Perhaps I thought by touching a tool that had seen so many premiere ascents, some of Steve's innate ability would osmosisize into me. I'm not sure it worked, but it was worth a try.

Winds at 14k Camp

Life at 14,400'

Foraker and 14k camp from the edge of the world at 17k camp

A panorama video from 17K

...And then this happened...for several days...and it sucked!

A week of bad weather at 17K and three trips to Denali Pass at 18,300' had worn us out. Finally on the third attempt two guides and two clients made it to the top in less than ideal weather. We made it down and out in 19 days. It was super nice to get back down to the green forests and blooming flowers. Plus, I made it down just in time for a very special birthday party...

Cloud walkers: Climbers on the ridge just below 17k camp

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